Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences News

Capsule: ‘Real Prices,’ Abortion, & Health Care Consolidation

Feb. 8, 2019, 11:15 AM

Welcome to Capsule—your weekly dose of health-care news, where we give you a recap of this week’s highs and lows for key players in the health-care industry. You can expect us every Friday morning as a bookend for your week.

President Donald Trump brought up some of the biggest issues in health care during his State of the Union speech this week. But that’s not all that’s been going on. Let’s do a recap and also look at what other health issues drove the news this week.

Here’s who ended the week on a high note:

‘Real Prices’

  • “Real prices” got a shout-out in Trump’s State of the Union address. He said “we should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down.” There’s plenty of debate about what price lawmakers should be looking at. Rebates make it hard to know what the “real price” for anything is in the health industry.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she wants Republicans and Democrats to work together to bring health-care costs down, Madison Alder reports. Pelosi has been critical of the Trump administration’s recently proposed policy change to bring down prices, calling it “a prescription for more of the same.”
  • Those bipartisan fuzzy feelings don’t apply to everyone though, Alex Ruoff reports. Some Democrats said they’ve been waiting for years for Trump to endorse a price negotiation bill and aren’t holding their breath any longer. “We have our own agenda we’re going to move forward with or without him,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the influential House Rules Committee.

Americans With HIV

  • Trump also committed this week to “eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years,” Madison Alder writes. That’s possible, HIV groups say, but only if he backs up his speech with action.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar released an outline of his agency’s plan to end the epidemic this week as well. Increasing federal funds to areas highly affected by the disease, using data-driven tools, and creating an “HIV HealthForce” in affected areas are the three main areas the HHS said it would target in the plan.
  • However, the CEO of the advocacy group AIDS United has said a separate Medicare Part D proposal the Trump administration is pushing would make it harder to access HIV drugs and could lead to more people being infected.

Elderly Patients

  • Minnesota is poised to pass elder-abuse protections, Stephen Joyce reports. Consumers would be allowed to plant “granny cams” at Minnesota nursing homes to detect elder neglect and abuse under proposed laws being hashed out among political parties, state agencies, and elderly-care facilities.
  • Meanwhile an influential House Democrat is pressuring the Medicare agency to better curb and penalize inappropriate prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to nursing home residents, Shira Stein reports.
  • Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who chairs the committee that has oversight of the Medicare program, is asking the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to explain how nursing homes and Medicare prescription drug plans act on inappropriate prescribing, he said in a previously unreported letter obtained by Bloomberg Law.

It was a bleak week for others. Here’s whose Thursday closed on a downswing:

Abortion Access Advocates

  • The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Louisiana from requiring abortion doctors to get admitting privileges at a local hospital, giving a reprieve to clinics as the justices consider whether to take up an appeal, Greg Stohr from Bloomberg News reports.
  • Pressure for the U.S. Supreme Court to make a definitive decision about abortion access is getting higher, Mary Anne Pazanowski reports. A 21-state coalition is urging the high court to review a decision that blocked Alabama from restricting dilation and evacuation abortions. Anti-abortion groups appear confident that Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh would rule in their favor, meaning the court possibly now has enough anti-abortion justices to overturn, or at least limit, existing abortion law.
  • The state of Indiana is pushing the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision blocking it from enforcing a law requiring a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound examination 18 hours before the procedure.
  • Meanwhile, 16 states are supporting Kentucky’s efforts to revive a law requiring abortion clinics to have emergency care agreements with hospitals and ambulance companies. That law would force the only clinic in the state that performs surgical abortions to close.

Medicaid Efforts

  • I know, I know... it seems like every week Medicaid is having a “high” or a “low.” Welcome to this week’s low, largely due to Utah’s Senate approving a reduced expansion of Medicaid that would cover fewer people and cost the state more money than the full expansion of the program approved by voters in November.
  • But that’s not all, Tripp Baltz reports. The Wyoming House also scuttled a Medicaid expansion bill this week and is instead opting to spend $260,000 to study how Medicaid expansion would affect the state.
  • If you’re a Medicaid expansion supporter though, you’ll be happy to know the Idaho Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of expanding Medicaid coverage in the state. The court called the challenge from a politically right-wing advocacy group “without merit,” Paul Shukovsky writes.

Health Care Consolidation

  • Scrutiny of competition in the health-care industry is on the agenda of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, two sources familiar with the committee’s actions told Shira Stein. Among the potential areas for scrutiny: the increasing consolidation of hospitals, the CVS-Aetna merger, and the Celgene/Bristol-Myers Squibb tie-up.
  • That scrutiny is coming as dealmakers made a comeback in January, logging $275 billion of mergers and acquisitions globally to mark the best start to a year in almost two decades, Nabila Ahmed and Michael Hytha from Bloomberg News report. Consolidation has been especially hard on generic drugmakers, who say it has caused low prices that are unsustainable.
  • Some corporate attorneys are telling their clients to pump the brakes on merger applications though, Victoria Graham writes. At least until the fear of another government shutdown has passed.

Thanks for joining us this week and have a great weekend. I’m all ears when it comes to your two cents, tips, critiques, or coordinating exclusive interviews. Send them my way at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com

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